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Gun reformers search for the next bump stock

The next bump stock? Gun reform advocates think they’ve seen a few.

The debate over bump stocks — the little-known devices used to deadly effect during last month’s shooting massacre in Las Vegas — has all but vanished on Capitol Hill. But gun reformers are already seeking to identify similar products in hopes of convincing Congress to apply new restrictions aimed at preventing the next tragedy.

On Wednesday, the gun-violence prevention group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) will release a report detailing nine products — all commercially available under current federal law — the advocates say are designed specifically to circumvent long-established gun checks and therefore pose a threat to public safety.

Rather than wait around for lawmakers to react to the next mass shooting, they’re hoping to avert it.

“We can sit back and bring these issues up after something horrible happens, or maybe we can just take a fresh look and … anticipate what might be used in the next shooting and try to create a regulatory structure that makes it harder for criminals to use them,” David Chipman, senior policy adviser with the Giffords group, said Tuesday by phone.

The products singled out by the group are a combination of obscure accessories and military-style firearms that, like bump stocks, are hardly household names. They include binary triggers, which modify firearms so one round is fired with the pull of the trigger, and another upon the trigger’s release; trigger cranks, which allow shooters to fire more rapidly with the turn of a handle; and incendiary rounds, which ignite when they hit a target.

The list also features modern AR- and AK-style pistols, which can be concealed like handguns but have the firepower of rifles, and .50-caliber rifles, which can fire rounds accurately for a mile and retain the punch to pass through a house.

Conservatives on Capitol Hill, backed by gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Gun Owners of America (GOA), have rejected legislation limiting such guns and accessories, citing the Second Amendment rights they deem inviolable.

“The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the federal government from imposing ANY infringements upon our gun rights,” Erich Pratt, GOA’s executive director, said after the Las Vegas shooting.

Yet most Democrats, joined by the reform advocates, say the advent of new innovations in the weapons industry has created loopholes in decades-old gun laws allowing for easy access to firearms intended to be either restricted or banned.

Bump stocks, for instance, essentially convert semi-automatic rifles, which are legal, into automatic weapons, which have been banned since 1986. And some modern pistols, the Giffords group contends, have the firepower of the short-barrel rifles subject to limits under the National Firearms Act (NFA), but were specifically designed to skirt that law simply because they don’t fit to the shoulder.

“This is how technology has been purposefully woven to get around what has been a very effective piece of gun-safety legislation,” said Chipman. “I don’t think it takes much imagination to look at what we’ve described here and sort of create a scenario where a lot of people get hurt if these are in the wrong hands.”

Adopted in 1934, the NFA requires buyers of a host of weapons — deemed at the time to be used frequently in crimes — to pass background checks and register their firearms with the federal government.

Chipman, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said those hurdles remain a strong deterrent to violent criminals even today.

“We rarely found registered firearms ever used in crime,” he said, citing his 25 years with the agency. “It’s the same reason people don’t rob banks in their own car, and dope dealers don’t put their business card in dope.”

The national debate over gun control has erupted since the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, where a lone gunman, equipped with bump stocks, killed 58 concertgoers and injured more than 500 others in a span of 10 minutes.

The tragedy drew immediate calls for a bump-stock ban from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — with a sharp distinction. Most Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi, Schumer: Trump 'desperate' to put focus on immigration, not health care Trump urges Dems to help craft new immigration laws: ‘Chuck & Nancy, call me!' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE (R-Wis.), urged ATF officials to make the change administratively. Most Democrats pressed for a more permanent legislative fix.

Since then, ATF officials have been making the rounds on Capitol Hill briefing lawmakers on their position. The message, according to several participants of those meetings, has been that bump stocks remain legal under current law and that the agency is powerless to make the change without congressional action.

"Basically, they stand by their determinations,” said one aide who participated.

The ATF referred questions to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.

Inaction by the ATF would present GOP leaders with the difficult question of whether they’d step in to enact the ban they say they want. The Republicans are under heavy pressure from conservatives on and off of Capitol Hill not to intervene, and House GOP leaders appear loathe to address the thorny issue amid a high-stakes push to enact tax reform before Christmas.

Rep. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloDems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows GOP spokeswoman says Republicans will lose House seats in midterms Cook Political Report shifts 7 more races towards Dems MORE (R-Fla.), who has sponsored legislation banning bump stocks, is urging GOP leaders to abandon their focus on the ATF and get behind his bill.

“Obviously, among Republicans and especially leadership, the idea of giving ATF the opportunity to issue new regulations has gained a lot of momentum,” he told McClatchy recently. “I think that is a waste of time because ATF has expressed in the past at least twice that they have no authority under existing law to regulate.”

Complicating the debate, the more recent Nov. 5 mass shooting at a rural church in Texas has shifted the focus of the gun debate from bump stocks to holes in the background check system.

Ryan’s office deflected questions to Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteRosenstein to appear for House interview next week Fusion GPS co-founder pleads the Fifth following House GOP subpoena House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein MORE (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Goodlatte issued a brief statement saying the use of bump stocks in Las Vegas “is extremely concerning” and that he’s “committed to looking at the regulations … to see if they need improving.” He has so far declined repeated entreaties from committee Democrats, including ranking member John ConyersJohn James ConyersFormer campaign aide to New Jersey governor says she was sexually assaulted by his ex-staffer Kavanaugh controversy has led to politicization of 'Me Too,' says analyst Sexual assault is not a game — stop using women to score political points MORE (D-Mich.), to hold hearings on gun issues.

Across the Capitol, Sen. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October MORE (R-Iowa) has been more aggressive. After an initial postponement, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman has scheduled a Dec. 6 hearing to examine both the firearm-accessory and background-check issues highlighted by the Nevada and Texas shootings.

Republicans will use that forum to seek answers as to why ATF hasn’t acted unilaterally on bump stocks. And gun reform advocates will be watching closely as well, already wary that another deadly shooting spree between now and they may delay the discussion indefinitely.

“Our members of Congress, they’re talking a lot about it, but nothing’s happened,” Chipman said.

“If we keep delaying hearings because of mass shootings, we’re never going to have a hearing.”